The Discussion with the Head Priest and My Determination
Having been rejected before I could say even a single word, I’m left completely unable to comprehend what the head priest just said . I hadn’t even considered the possibility that someone who knows about the situation in the orphanage could tell me that there’s no reason to improve it .
“What do you mean by there being no reason to improve the situation?” I ask . “There are very young kids in there on the verge of starving to death . That’s no place to raise children…”
Thinking that perhaps he just hasn’t heard all of the details, I uneasily start to explain to him what I saw earlier today, but he just raises his hands, cutting me off .
“With all of the working gray-robed priests and priestesses, as well as their attendants, we simply do not have the funds to spare for unbaptized orphans . Since you were raised by your parents from birth, you may not be aware of this, but the temple does not recognize unbaptized children as people . When they receive their baptisms and are registered as citizens, then they are acknowledged as people . ”
I already knew that it’s not possible to hire someone who hasn’t been baptized yet, so I’d figured that there was some sort of similar situation going on here . However, I can’t imagine being okay with how those kids are being treated just because they aren’t technically considered people .
“…So, then, you don’t care if those children die?”
“Yes, if that were to be the gods’ will . To be perfectly honest, it would be a great help if their numbers were to thin out . ”
I was hoping he’d say he actually cared, but he instead just clearly says that he doesn’t . As I sit there, dumbfounded, he begins to explain to me the situation with the gray-robed priests and priestesses that currently remain in the orphanage .
“There used to be over twice as many blue robes as there are now . As for their attendants and apprentices, the math is easy to do . One blue robe has, on average, five to six attendants working for them . So, now that so many of them have been called back to noble society, do you understand how many attendants they left behind?”
If there are ten fewer blue-robed clergy here than there were before, then that means that there’s between sixty and seventy attendants that were left here . Here in the temple, where attendants are supported as part of the blue robed priests’ donations and living expenses, that would definitely cause an administrative breakdown .
“We were able to sell off thirty of the unnecessary priests and priestesses to the nobility to work as servants, but there are still too many here . ”
“Perhaps some of those priests could be tasked with taking care of the young children?”
“If they’re being taken care of, then it’ll be problematic if their number increases again . Do you know why the temple master disposes of his gray-robed priestesses? Hm, I think you might not be able to understand what I’m trying to say . ”
What I’m trying to get across is that, even though the number of blue-robed priests and priestesses at the temple is the lowest it’s ever been right now, that number will rise again in the next few years, so it would be a problem if there simply wasn’t anyone left in the orphanages . The head priest, however, says that the gods’ blessings are already insufficient, so it’ll be an even bigger problem if the number of people in the orphanage increases any more than it already has .
“…At the very least, even if it’s just cleaning, can’t something be done? I can easily imagine a plague ripping its way through such a filthy environment . ”
“Hmm . It’s unsightly, so it’s better to bury it all, you say? The thought isn’t without its merits, but that would not be good for our reputation . ”
“No!! That’s not at all what I meant…”
How the hell did you come up with that idea?!
I bite down on an angry yell . Our standpoints and sets of common knowledge are just too different . Even though we’re hearing each others’ words, we’re not actually gaining a shared understanding .
“Father,” I say, “why does the orphanage exist? Is it not a place to raise children who don’t have any parents?”
“That’s not entirely correct . It is a place that, at the charity of nobles, takes in children who have no one else to look after them and raises them so that they may serve the nobility . ”
Even what we think the orphanage is for is way too different . I can’t even communicate any of my emotions about how they’re pitiful or how I want to help them .
The head priest, sighs, seeming to be similarly irritated about not being understood .
“If you want something to be done about the dying children, then why don’t you do it? Nobody thus far has wanted to become the orphanage director . If you were to take that position, then you’d have full responsibility over the entire orphanage . Will you do it?”
I gulp . I hadn’t expected him to ask me that . While I do want to help the orphans, I am nowhere close to ready to take on the burden of taking care of the entire orphanage . I can’t do something so terrifying .
I clench my fists tightly in my lap . “I can’t,” I say, shaking my head .
He nods, humming thoughtfully . Looking down at me, he continues his argument .
“Then, considering the current ratio of blue to gray robes, the gods’ blessings are sufficient to feed about forty people in the orphanage . You, out of all the blue-robed clergy, are the most able to be free with your money . Are you capable of providing food for the remaining forty-plus people living in the orphanage?”
“…I am not . My workshop holds most of my funds . I don’t actually have that much money I can freely use . ”
Between furnishing my rooms and paying my attendants, I’m already overspending right now . Right now, I’m at the level where I’m more-or-less okay, thanks to the money I made from selling recipes . But since the Italian restaurant isn’t even open yet, I don’t have any prospects for earning any more money . Right now, there’s no way I can take on feeding all of the orphans .
“You can’t take responsibility and you can’t provide any funding . If you can’t do anything, then be silent . A child like you, with your half-baked sense of justice, should not run your mouth . Don’t think about silly things, just go be a good girl and read those books you love so much . ”
What he’s saying is undeniably correct . I have no rebuttal . I can’t do anything about it, so I have no right to complain . Rather than doing something half-heartedly, it would be better if I just did nothing at all .
“…I am terribly sorry for wasting your time,” I say .
Head hanging, I leave the head priest’s chamber .
I asked him for help and was told no . There is nothing more I can do . I have no choice but to just bear with it . No matter how much I try to tell myself that, though, it still feels like there’s a ball of lead churning around in my stomach .
“Sister Maïne,” says Fran, kneeling beside me, “shall I lead you to the library room? I believe that may help ease your mind . ”
There’s genuine concern in his voice, unlike the sour tone he’d used when I told him I wanted to speak with the head priest .
“…Fran, did you know this was going to happen?”
“It was my job to understand what the Father is thinking . As such, I judged that this conversation would only dishearten you . Please, forget about the orphanage . ”
Fran takes me by the hand, and we go to the library . As I read, I immerse myself in the book, not thinking about anything unnecessary . However, before I even realize it, the sixth bell rings, telling me that it’s time for Lutz to come pick me up . I need to leave the library and go back to my own room to change .
On my way back to my room, I catch a glimpse of the orphanage from the hallway . In that instant, all of the images come flooding back through my mind, and my gut starts to churn .
The instant I start to heave, I clap my hand over my mouth, trying desperately to keep everything in . Fran hurriedly picks me up, bringing me to a cleaning bucket .
I try not to cry as I throw up into the bucket .
There’s no way I can forget what I saw . If I could spend every waking moment reading, then I might be able to forget about it, but I know that when I’m not reading, it’s all going to come back .
In my Urano days, there was a huge physical distance between Japan and Africa . There wasn’t a whole lot of impact on my daily life, so donating a couple hundred yen was enough to assuage my conscience . All I ever saw was the image on the TV screen, so my reaction was only ever “oh, those poor kids” . Even if the topic came up when I was in the middle of eating dinner, I could forget about it immediately .
Now, though, my rooms are literally connected to the orphanage . Now that I know that there’s only a single wall separating me from that awful situation, I won’t be able to rest easy at all .
“Sister Maïne, how’d it go?”
Gil innocently runs up to me, asking me how my conversation went . His purple eyes, so dark they’re almost black, are so full of hope that they’re painful to look at .
I avert my eyes . “I’m sorry, Gil . The head priest refused me . ”
Gil stares at me in panicked disbelief . Not only can I not save the orphans from their situation, I can’t even meet Gil’s expectations . I stare down at the floor, bracing myself for whatever he’s going to say next .
“Gil, restrain yourself,” says Fran .
“Ugh, you idiot,” says Delia . “Didn’t I tell you that getting your hopes up was pointless?”
Their words hold him back . He chews his lip, looking like he has something he really wants to say, but then hangs his head in silence .
As Delia gets things ready to help me get changed, she shrugs, with a know-it-all expression on her face .
“The one really responsible for that situation is the temple master,” she says, matter-of-factly, “who says that priestesses who are bearing child can’t do their work and are useless, so they’re always the first people he gets rid of . There’s nothing that the head priest can do about that . ”
“Delia?” I say .
“It’s true! Priestesses whose bellies are too big or who have just given birth live over there, but whenever it’s decided that there’s too many people in there, then they’re the first to go, right? But, when guests come, you need to be able to offer them flowers, so there need to be replacements available for any priestesses whose bellies get too big, so you can’t get rid of too many of them . ”
Delia tells me that right now, the gray-robed priestesses and apprentices that are left in the orphanage who do the cleaning and laundry are all fairly young and fairly attractive . Priestesses who give birth are disposed of . The ones who aren’t pretty are sold off as servants to the nobility . All that’s left are those who are candidates to be flowers . It sounds like this is all the result of keeping around only what’s necessary for the blue-robed priests .
Men can’t bear children, so they work for much longer . As a result, they become highly educated and thus fetch a high price when sold to the nobility as attendants . However, since the number of nobles in the city has decreased, there hasn’t been as much demand . So, right now, there are actually more priests left over than priestesses .
“So what you’re telling me is that the children in the orphanage are the blue-robed priests’ children, then?” I ask . “Doesn’t that mean they’ll have noble blood?”
“…About half of them, do, I think? I mean, I do,” she says, without hesitation .
“Huh? Then, you have mana, too?”
“The more mana you have, the harder it is to conceive a child . So, the only blue-robed priests here that are able to father children are the ones who have very little mana . I heard that fathering a child means that a priest will never be called back to noble society,” she says .
So, now, all that’s left in the temple are blue-robed priests who don’t have any mana . This excessively self-centered style of management makes both my head and my stomach hurt .
“The temple master”, Delia continues, “is the one who decides what goes on in the temple, so rather than try to go against him, I think it’d be better to do things he’d be happy with . Now, then! Gentlemen, please leave . Sister Maïne must get changed . ”
She claps her hands, driving Fran and Gil from the room, then starts quickly changing my clothes for me .
“Ugh! Don’t make that face . You look like you’re going to die . Just forget about it, alright? Even if you worry, there’s nothing you can do about it,” she says, skillfully helping me get dressed .
There’s no way that there’s nothing that I can do . If I invest all of Maïne’s Workshop’s funds, I should be able to do something .
However, neither the temple master nor the head priest are seeking to improve the orphanage . Also, if I do invest, then once my funds dry up, then everything goes back the way it was . On top of that, I don’t have it in me to be able to take on the burden of caring for all of those peoples’ lives . I’m too gripped with fear to even be able to just invest money in the problem .
I run through the temple gates, latching on tightly to Lutz . The instant I grab hold of him, all the tears I’ve been holding back burst forth, like a dam breaking . It’s probably because of the sense of relief I feel from having returned to a place where my own knowledge of how things work is actually correct .
Lutz, by reflex, starts patting my head as he looks up at Fran, who came to see me off today .
“Did something happen?” he says .
“I shall explain while we walk,” replies Fran, glancing briefly at the gatekeepers .
As we walk through streets full of people hurrying to get home, Fran explains to Lutz what had happened today .
“All she did was ask the head priest to help the orphans . She was unable to persuade him and was forced to abandon her attempt, but it seems that her heart remains unconvinced . ”
“…Whoa, those kids are going to die? That’s real rough . But, Maïne, there isn’t anything you can actually do about it, right? You should ignore it . Forget about it . ”
I live a poor, but still relatively comfortable life, so that scene struck me exceptionally deeply . There’s no way I can just be convinced otherwise .
“I think it would be great if I could just forget about it,” I say, tears streaming down my face . “I’d love to not know about it . But now that I know that something like that is happening literally on the other side of my wall, there’s no way I can just forget about it!”
Lutz stops walking, turning to look at me directly .
“You really hate that disaster that you saw, right? What do you want it to be instead?”
The images flash through my mind again, and I think to myself about what I’d like to see in the orphanage instead .
“…I want those kids to be able to eat until they’re all full, and I want them to all grow up big and strong . I want them to not have to sleep on that filthy, stinky, uncovered straw that looks like it’s getting them all sick . I want them sleeping on blankets, at least!”
“Huh? You want them to eat until they’re full? Man, you gotta be rich to do that, right? It’s normal to just eat enough that you’ve got energy to keep moving . I don’t even get to eat until I’m full at my house, you know . ”
It sounds like I’m aiming too high . Thinking back to my own life at home, I suddenly realize that I was thinking about managing the orphanage from the standards of noble society at the temple .
Lately, at the temple, I’ve been able to eat as much delicious food as I could possible want . Since even at home we’ve managed to increase our household earnings, I’d forgotten that it’s rare for kids in the poorer parts of the city to be able to eat their fill . Lutz, for one, is constantlyhungry, and is always constantly fighting for food with his brothers at the dinner table .
“Ah, right, they don’t actually need to be all full…”
“And it’s weird to expect that you’d be the one bringing in all the food, right? What about what they can get for themselves? If they’re hungry, rather than just waiting around, what could they do?”
Since the temple is a particularly peculiar institution, I hadn’t been using my own common knowledge to think of solutions, but if I set the target standard of living as an average kid from the poor parts of town, then the financial burden drops massively . Any food that can’t be bought can be foraged for in the forest and brought back .
“Unfortunately, the orphans are not allowed to leave the temple,” says Fran, looking pained .
The orphans are, for all practical purposes, kept locked in the orphanage . Before their baptism, it’s so that the nobility doesn’t have to see anything unsightly . After, it’s so that they don’t learn anything undesirable .
I don’t think to comment on Fran’s view . Lutz, however, has no knowledge of how the temple works, and objects .
“So, tell me,” he says, tilting his head, “who decided that orphans can’t leave the temple? If they’re not needed for anything, then there’s no problem for them to be going to the forest, now, is there? Like, what about you and Gil? You can leave . ”
“Fran and Gil are my attendants,” I say, “so they’re a special case . ”
Since I commute to and from the temple, escorting me to and from home is part of their job . It’s effectively the same as when other blue-robed priests bring their attendants with them to the nobles’ district . It’s not like they can just come and go freely .
“So, how about you take all the kids that are left there and make them your attendants? If you do that, then they can all leave, right?”
I look up at Lutz, blinking several times at his unexpected proposal .
“Please hold on,” says Fran . “Think of how many… Sister Maïne, would it not be unreasonable for you to provide the necessities of life to all of them?”
“Well,” says Lutz, “if we’re thinking of getting them outside, then yeah we need to get all of them clothes, but since we’re just talking about clothes for going to the forest, then we can get them real cheap from some of the second-hand clothing stores we use, can’t we?”
I start running the math in my head for buying used clothing for all of the orphans, as well as getting knives and baskets for going to the forest . Since it would be impossible, after all, for everyone to simultaneously abandon their duties in the temple to go to the forest, I could have a squad rotation instead, meaning that they’d be able to share equipment, cutting down on how much I need to buy .
“…If it’s just cheap second-hand clothing for fifty to sixty people, plus knives and baskets for going to the forest, then it’ll be cheap,” I say . “It’ll be about thirty percent of the cost I spent on clothes for you and the other two,” I tell Fran .
Fran’s eyes fly open in shock, and he looks down at what he’s wearing . The clothes I bought for my attendants are high class . They are nothing even remotely comparable to what I wear when I’m at home .
“They should be able to go to the forest, forage for food, and take care of themselves . After all, the orphanage doesn’t have any money, so in other words, they’re all poor people . ”
He’s being very blunt, but he’s also very right . They shouldn’t just have to wait to be given things they need . They should be able to take care of themselves .
I turn to Fran . “Since I’ve asked you and Gil to go to Benno’s shop a few times already, it sounds like it’s possible to send attendants out on errands?”
“…You are correct,” he says, slowly .
“So, if I were to ask my attendants to go to the forest to harvest, say, folin for me, then would that be possible?”
Lutz’s eyes immediately light up .
“A branch of Maïne’s Workshop in the orphanage?”
“Yeah! If I open up a branch of Maïne’s Workshop in the orphanage, and they can make things in order to pay for their own food expenses, then even if I’m not there anymore, then they won’t start starving . ”
Rather, getting them in a position where they can go to the forest, gather food, and cook for themselves comes first . As Lutz and I talk about what the most efficient way to do things might be and where to start the project from, Fran suddenly interjects, looking like he has something hard to say .
“These are all very excellent ideas,” he says . “…However . These are all extremely different from how the temple has done things historically . The head priest will also ask you if you are prepared to shoulder the responsibility for all of those people . Are you able to do so?”
All of the blood instantly drains from my face .
It’s exactly as he says . I’m an outsider, and a child at that . If I were to suddenly burst in, ignoring all custom, and ransack the orphanage, I can’t imagine any good would come from that . I’d be in conflict with the blue-robed priests, including the temple master and the head priest, and if I’m paying people based on their work at the workshop, then no matter how you look at it that’s not distributing everything equally among everyone .
“Sorry, Lutz . I can’t take on that much responsibility . It’s too scary…”
“So . Which is scarier, then? All those orphans dying without you doing anything, or taking responsibility?”
They’re both terrifying . If I abandon the orphanage the way that it currently is, then every single day I’m going to feel like there’s a leaden pit in my stomach . However, there’s no way that I can actually take responsibility for other peoples’ lives .
I hold my hand to my stomach . Lutz just shrugs at me .
“Hey, Maïne . Don’t think about it too hard . If you try, and it doesn’t work, it’s okay to just stop, isn’t it?”
“Lutz, just stopping… the lives of the orphans are at stake, you know?”
I scowl at him, but he just snorts back at me in a very Benno-like fashion .
“Isn’t it normal for a workshop that doesn’t do any work or a shop that doesn’t have any sales to go bankrupt? But if you’re doing this in the orphanage, then even if the workshop goes under, then it’s not like the workers are suddenly out in the cold, you know?”
“…Because they’re still living in the orphanage, and at least they’re still getting the gods’ blessings, huh . ”
“Even if the workshop doesn’t work out, nobody’s going to be out on the streets, so what exactly does it mean that you need to take responsibility for their lives? Also, since we’re talking about something Maïne’s Workshop is doing, you know you’ve got me here with you too, right?”
I think there are probably a lot of different things that I’ll need to take responsibility for . If Benno were telling me to take responsibility, then he’d be telling me to take responsibility as the workshop’s head . And there’s bound to be even more cases I’m not thinking about .
But, still . If I’m working together with Lutz, then I think we might just be alright . It’s too scary for me to do by myself, but if I have Lutz with me, who’s been by my side all this time, then I’m positive that we’ll be able to make something work .
“Let’s do this together, Maïne,” he says . “You want to help them, right?”
“Yeah!” I reply, jumping forward to take his outstretched hand .
Fran smiles, looking like he’s facing down the inevitable .
“I shall assist you as well, Sister Maïne,” he says .